Information Literacy as a Department Store: Applications for Public Teen Librarians

Article excerpt

Public teen librarians have been challenged by their school and academic counterparts to provide more information literacy, both in the professional literature and in their daily activities. This author believes, however, that there is more than one way to view and define information literacy. Public librarians should instruct their teen customers much more on information use, but do so on their own terms. This article is a direct response to "Information Literacy and the Role of the Public Libraries" by Annette Skov. (1) It will discuss different ways to perceive information literacy instruction, the traditional and evolving roles of public librarians, how information literacy instruction can be developed in public library settings, and ways that teen librarians can work with their school and academic counterparts.

Roles of Public Libraries

In one of the first issues of American Library Journal in 1876, Samuel Green proposed a brand-new library service that was later known as reference service. (2) According to him, the three purposes of this service were to provide information, to instruct in information use, and to guide people in more recreational reading. In the twentieth century, special libraries emerged to focus on the direct provision of information and became information centers. School and academic libraries emerged to provide information and to instruct patrons on how to find and use it. These libraries are considered information and educational centers. Only public libraries attempt to fulfill all three aspects--information, instruction, and guidance. Public libraries are community information centers, informal educational centers, and cultural centers. While public teen librarians should conduct much more instruction for their teen customers, they need to define for themselves how they will do this, considering their many other roles.

Public libraries are open in the evenings, weekends, and during the summer, when school media centers are closed.

They have always supplemented the work of teachers and school library media specialists by providing homework assistance for teens in addition to cultural programs that promote the love of reading. Teen librarians, in general, don't only serve teens; they also spend some of their day serving many people, from preschoolers to working adults to senior citizens. Any instructional initiatives that they undertake should be considered in the light of these things. This article will focus mainly on how public and school librarians can better instruct teens.

Public librarians always have instructed their patrons in information use. However, unlike their school and academic counterparts, most of their instruction has been informal, indirect, and often combined with reader's advisory services, bibliotherapy, programming, and other forms of guidance. It also has been very basic for the most part. Informal instruction often is given on an individual basis at the reference desk. Public librarians always have instructed indirectly and asynchronously through library design, signage, printed handbooks, bibliographies, and, more recently, Web sites.

Scandinavian and English-speaking countries were the first in the world to start tax-supported public libraries open to the public that circulated materials. In the United States, public libraries often were started to provide informal or non-formal education (NFE) to people of all ages, and they have served as "poor people's universities" in the past. For many years, public libraries also were de facto school libraries for schools that did not have media centers. Public librarians always have conducted tours and orientations, and some provided more formal and advanced instruction when requested. More recently, public librarians have been introducing computers to older patrons and many underprivileged library users. If they were not performing direct formal instruction very much before, they are doing it now! …